An appeal is going out to help our neighbors in need as the United Way kicks-off its annual fall fundraiser. We talked with CEO John Bernardi about the growing need here in the North Country with inflation driving up the costs of food, gas, heat, and housing heading into the winter. The annual drive hopes to raise 650-thousand dollars in donations to help the United Way and its 35 partner agencies assist those who in need.
It’s an old saying, but never truer. “Where there is a crisis, there is an opportunity”. People in the Adirondack Region know how to pull together in good times and bad. Call it grit, determination, empathy or compassion, it’s simply who we are and how we carry ourselves. The world changed for us on or about March 15th of this year. That afternoon, schools announced that they would be closing and public health guidelines became more urgent across communities, businesses and organizations. Personally, I had enjoyed a great morning of skiing at Whiteface that day, but by afternoon, as my phone was lighting up, I was knee deep in urgent conversations with school, government and community leaders about the impending impact on families and organizations in our region. I never stopped to worry, but instead, my mind went straight in to action mode. What I have witnessed in the weeks and months ahead has been nothing short of impressive and collaborative.
Disasters and public emergencies are typically categorized in to the three phases of preparedness, response and recovery, with County Government normally assuming the lead role. Emergency Operations Centers were quickly activated in Clinton, Essex and Franklin Counties with linkage to schools, hospitals, non-profits, faith-based organizations and the business community. We also activated Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster of the Adirondack Region (VOAD-ADK). This regional coalition brings together a diverse group of partners from the various sectors mentioned above, to help coordinate response and recovery activities throughout the region. As the Chairperson since its inception, I have had the privilege of helping to foster its development and to build upon its collaborative partnerships. None of us imagined a pandemic with the scope and urgency that COVID-19 has created and never before have we needed a regional response of this type. County Government in Clinton, Essex and Franklin, along with hospitals, school districts, non-profits, faith-based organizations and the chamber led- business community, have come together in an unprecedented way to address urgent issues like public health challenges, personal protective equipment, child care, food insecurity, transportation, mental health, wellness, housing and technology. While at times there has been confusion and complications, overall the response has been well coordinated and highly effective.
At the end of the day, it has been the hidden stories and the unsung heroes that mean the most. Like the elderly man in Franklin County desperate for groceries. A few phone calls had agencies and volunteers at his doorstep within an hour. Or, the dialysis patient in Clinton County suddenly unable to secure transportation to the next essential appointment. A few more phone calls and there were funds made available to utilize a private medical transportation company at a discounted rate. In Essex County, a single Mom was forced to leave her job due to a lack of childcare and was facing homelessness. A quickly formed coalition helped her secure stable housing, car repairs and the support to secure a new job and childcare. In all of these cases, success came in the opportunity for collaborative partnerships between non-profits, government and business. With the shadow of this crisis looming overhead still, we will seize the opportunity to shine through it. That’s what we do in the Adirondack Region.
John Bernardi is the President & CEO of United Way of the Adirondack Region, Inc.